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The Impact of COVID-19 on Recruitment Activity Levels – Panel Debate


The effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the labor market has been eye-opening – and has generated significant media coverage given the impact on unemployment. While it has been devastating for many industries where companies have had to lay off or furlough a significant portion of their workers, other sectors are still actively hiring and expanding their workforce.

One thing is certain, this is an unprecedented pandemic and how HR teams and hiring managers respond to this crisis will impact future business performance post COVID-19.

That’s why we assembled a panel of senior HR, Finance and Operations experts from across Corporate America to get a better understanding of how recruitment activities have been impacted and the new challenges COVID-19 is presenting in the hiring market.

We asked our panel 5 key questions related to the impact of COVID-19 and will be serialising this session over the coming weeks. In this first video our panelists reveal that hiring has still been taking  place even during the height of the pandemic. To find out more about the hiring hotspots and how recruitment has continued in these challenging conditions, do watch the video now:

Our thanks go to our expert panel members for their time and for sharing their insights so openly:

Jenn Ryan – SVP Operations – Xometry

Douglas Krieger – Director Global Sourcing – Herbalife

Julie Bank – SVP Human Resources – Brighton Health Plan Solutions

John Rorick – VP, Client Services – AgileOne

Steve Lagnado – CFO – Insider Inc

How Has Recruitment Held Up During The COVID-19 Outbreak?

This session certainly dispelled the myth that there’s been no hiring taking place since the pandemic broke. For many companies, recruitment has been continuing, if not as normal then at least at pace. Steve Lagnado, the CFO at Insider Inc., shared that his company had been active in the job market before the outbreak, but had to put a temporary hold on hiring when the pandemic struck – but not for long!

“We’re in the middle of what I would call an investment cycle. We’re hiring a lot. We started really, last year and entered this year with a ton of strength…we’ve grown meaningfully in the past six months. So when this hit, we immediately took stock of what was happening. We had just onboarded 20 people. We had another 20 people, literally in our queue, and we decided to just pause. We looked around and said OK, we just don’t know enough. There are so many unknowns about how long this is going to go on, and what’s going to happen. We didn’t have the ability to see what we’ve seen in the last eight weeks. So we can look back in hindsight and say it was a good decision. It was hard. It was hard to stop actually because we had made so much progress but we hit the brakes.”

Steve also explained that hiring activity is partly a function of whether or not each business has been financially impacted by the pandemic. For Insider Inc, increased readership volumes as people increased their digital news consumption helped to insulate his company from the financial impacts of the crisis and so meant they could continue to invest in new hires. This would be true for lots of pockets of the economy that are either insulated or directly benefiting from the changes that the pandemic has brought about.

What About The New Challenges That Covid-19 Is Presenting For The Hiring Market?

As social distancing, self-isolating and working from home have become the new norm, recruiting at this time certainly has its own challenges. One of our panelists Douglas Krieger, the Director of Global Sourcing at Herbalife, spoke directly about the challenges of hiring remote workers at this time and how it’s particularly the onboarding rather than the recruitment itself that poses the biggest challenge:

“I’ve hired people remotely before where I met them over a Webcast only, we virtually have shaken hands. That’s not the abnormal part. The really tough part, though, is when you start somebody and you’re bringing them into a completely virtual environment. So every introduction is virtual. There is no handshaking. There’s no let’s go to lunch or have somebody [a proxy] take them to lunch and just sit down and get to know the people. That’s the hard part. We’re going through some of that now… How do you make sure that when you bring them in they have a feeling of belonging? They have a feeling of absorbing that culture in an environment that’s going to be a little more challenging, but can teach them that culture. I think that’s the big thing and that’s something that we’ve been doing pretty well.”

This was a challenge that Steve Lagnado also echoed and he spoke about the difficulties they faced in trying to onboard new remote hires and integrate them into the company culture:

“We’ve been trying to figure out how to get people engaged and how to get them logistically onboard. But also how to get them integrated into the culture of the company without losing the excitement about starting the job.”

For John Rorick, the VP of Client Services at AgileOne, the current hiring environment can best be described as manic and the challenge with “contactless hiring” is often with the legacy cultures in leadership that companies find they have:

“How many organizations out there culturally, at least throughout the entire organization, are comfortable with never physically meeting a person they are about to offer a job to?… You’re going to hire an Executive Director and you won’t have anything more than this type of connection with them?… Legacy leadership is going to have to get very comfortable with that idea, and I think that if you don’t get comfortable with that idea you’re going to look a little bit less than contemporary. It’s going to hurt your employment brand.”

How Eye-Opening Has The Pandemic Been In Terms of People Strategies?

Covid-19 has no doubt forced a lot of employers to look for alternative strategies to manage the workforce – and for those still hiring, to adjust their recruitment strategies to suit the new normal. Julie Bank, the SVP of Human Resources at Brighton Health Plan Solutions, shared how the pandemic has helped them discover a new pool of candidates; people that they might not have considered if the flexibility that remote work brings wasn’t in play:

“These are remote times, and our leaders weren’t ready, because they didn’t think that they would be able to do it. And this just forced us to get there, really at lightning speed. What they’re seeing now is, it could work. This could do it. What we’ve been able to do now going forward is really open up our candidate pool, I think there’s so much value there.”

Steve Lagnado made a similar point. Being able to have people work remotely has now enabled them to recruit candidates from outside New York City where the company is headquartered:

“It’s given us this ability to go into markets we might not be in, find talent in talent pools that didn’t exist for us beforehand, because we were so focused on putting people in our headquarters. Now we’re basically kind of making this leap, we might never return to the way it was, and we’re okay with having people work remotely.”

There is, of course, the challenge of having roles that can’t be filled by remote workers. Nonetheless, the pandemic has provided the opportunity for companies to assess having a remote workforce:

“There are positions that have got to be there. But the fact that so many organizations are now living through virtual, has forced them to live it and see it. They are now being able to assess and see what works and what doesn’t. So I think that’s going to be so helpful for future recruitment, because I don’t think we would have had this opportunity.” Julie Bank added.

Jenn Ryan, the SVP of Operations at Xometry, also believes the landscape of recruitment has been changed by the COVID-19 outbreak and that these changes are likely to be sustained even after the pandemic:

“As we return, whatever recruitment looks like, there are preferences. But also the widespread success of remote work is going to change these discussions… I think there’s a real chance that as we embrace virtual or part virtual we’re going to have a much more diverse workforce. There are more folks who can participate when there’s more flexibility.”

However, none of this means the change will be easy. A lot of employers are going to need to come to terms with the fact that a considerable portion of their workforce will be remote workers going forwards.  This can be difficult, especially for managers who are used to having a physical team in front of them. John Rorick advises arming managers with tools that will help them track productivity from a remote work management standpoint:

“There’s a skill gap that organizations have to lean in and provide for them (managers). Some people naturally have the ability for it, for others it is a muscle that they have got to develop. So to be fair to those who have always, maybe physically sat in a call center where they see their dashboard, where they can see their teams, and that’s how they’ve engaged their groups. We have to arm them with the skillsets or when we’re screening folks into our organization, we then have to look for that skillset… Because their teams will now be dispersed versus physically with them in the facility.”

Up Next?

This blog covers the first of five topics that our panelists were asked to address during our live Q&A session. In blogs and video recordings we’ll be sharing over the coming weeks we’ll similarly be addressing:

  • How have your hiring plans changed in response to COVID-19?
  • What skills do you anticipate being in greatest demand over the coming year?
  • What impact is remote working and remote onboarding of new staff having on your business?
  • How are you keeping current staff engaged, and how do you see integrating new, potentially remote employees into your team?

Watch this space for more.

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